A Bitter Pill: Three Times

She asked once on the third day. The children ran off to play; the birthday festivities were mostly done. With less to distract her mind, she struggled to forget the fire in her arms and legs and belly as her body demanded the drug that would ease its suffering. So she asked.

Callee did not falter in her sewing. The dress of Neilia’s doll had a tiny rip, a perfect rip for Hobbit fingers to mend, and Callee did not miss a stitch as she told Cwendlwyn simply, “No.”

Cwendlywn threw up.

She went outside, of course, and found shade beneath the peonies after and let the shaded earth cool her flushed cheek.

The next time she asked for it, she hadn’t eaten in two days. Nothing would stay down. Again, Callee did not look up from pulling weeds and answered with a simple, “No.”

Though when Cwendlwyn did not immediately walk away, she added, “One more time. Why don’t you go write Oendir? Let him know what is going on.”

Cwendlwyn hesitated still.

“Woman, go write to your husband. He is your husband, no matter the reasons why you are where you are now.”

Obediently, Cwenldywn went inside the tall house–Hobbit in style, Man in size–and found her study full of bits and bobs added by Callee throughout the years that the lass had been Gardeneve’s caretaker. A collection of smooth beach stones sat in a jar on the windowsill and Cwendlwyn could not help but remember Dol Amroth and the smell of the sea and Oendir’s gnarled foot in her lap as the children played in the surf. The boundaries between patient and healer, commander and soldier blurred in those moments between them when even before they looked upon each other as lovers, they saw each other as kindred spirits fighting for some smudge of happiness after all the twists that life threw at them.

It took many attempts for her to start writing. Several blotches of dark blue ink splattered the top of the parchment where her quill hovered as she sat in her muddled thoughts.

Dear Oendir,

I do not know how to start this letter, so I will simply begin in the thing that is hardest for me. I could not stay with you in Rivendell because of my own weakness and I am ashamed that I have failed you so.

In Dol Amroth, some years ago we discovered a plot to overthrow the Prince through a conspiracy with Southron Corsairs. These mysterious folk from the southern lands brought two dangers to our lands: a weapon that could shoot little balls of lead using fire and a medicine that if abused, caused more ill than it cured. 

I am a healer, Oendir. That is why I travel with the Wayfarers and why you recruited me. A young Swan-knight by the name of Sir Pengail of House Nomin was injured by one of those terrible fire sticks and the injury was beyond my abilities. A Southron physician tended the young man and prescribed him a pill of what they call opium to ease the searing pain.

This opium came in many forms and it was used to poison many Swan-knights who fell beholden to its powerful effects. It dulls the senses–all senses. It makes pain go away, makes one drowsy, inured to the problems of the world. 

In Dol Amroth, as a matter of professionalism, I tested it on myself so I knew what I was administering to that poor knight. I quickly discovered that if I did not take more, I became violently ill. 

Back then, even then, you did not understand what was happening to me. Hardly anyone did save Hallem Kemp, who has apparently experimented with potions and mysterious, unknown mixtures before. I weaned myself off of them then and swore to never touch the stuff again, but when circumstances fell on me, already sick with worry about you, and when Hallem said that we should stop trying to help you remember your past, I fell to my weakness again. I am ashamed and I am ill and I am trying to get better so that I can come back to you. You need me strong and patient and loving. Not sweating and groaning and vomiting. 

Oen, our past is nothing if not turbulent. The life of an adventurer is always so. There is one thing that is steady through all of it, through the travel and the pain and the loss and the triumph. It is you and my affection for you. You are my best friend, my confidant. The one who knows me best. Sadly, that might not be very well after all we have been through. We are both rather guarded individuals. We keep our pain closeted away so we do not have to burden others who already bear so much. We need to be more open with one another, Oen. I need to remember that I trust that no matter what, we will always return to one another again.

I will come to you soon, if you will have me back. I am getting better. This will pass. Our children miss you, and I believe they are strong enough to know what is happening to you. I am going to bring them with me and you can decide if you wish for us to stay there with you, or if you wish to come back to Durrow. 

For now, I hope that you are resting and happy. I love you, Oendir. I think that part of you still remembers that you love me.

Always,

Your Cwen

Cwendlwyn looped the tail of her “n” low beneath the line of letters and drew it into graceful bows and loops to empty the nib of her quill. She folded it, sealed it, and then carried it out to Callee.

“Here,” she said. “I wrote him.”

“Good,” Callee answered as she tugged on a stubborn weed with deep roots crowding the hydrangea. “Set it with the others and I’ll take it to post in a bit.”

“Actually, I will take them. I would like the bottle as well, please.”

Callee’s stern eyes rose to study Cwendlywn’s face. She frowned, but nodded and pulled it from her sash.

“Are you certain?” she asked as she handed it to her. Cwendlwyn nodded and turned to go back inside to gather the rest of the mail.

On her way back from the post master’s, she took a detour to a low bank of the Brandywine River. The muddy waters rushed by as they had each time she had stood there in that same spot north of Buckleberry Ferry. Squatting to sit on her heels, Cwendlwyn dipped her hand into water and thought to herself that even though it was still the Brandywine River, it was not the same Brandywine River as before. Fresh waters flowed forever, a mix of old and new as it swirled past. Just like the Adorn back home, she thought, and for the first time in a long time, she thought of the Riddermark as home.

I have many homes, she thought as she uncorked the vial and poured its meager contents into the murky waters. In an instant, the opium washed away and fresh waters cleansed her fingers. For good measure, she tossed the bottle in, too.

For a few more moments, Cwendlwyn sat there in her unladylike squat hugging her knees. Then, slowly, awkwardly, she unfolded herself and stood. With a deep breath, she turned to go back to her family.

 

 

A Bitter Pill: Selfish

Are you all right?
“What if Oendir remembers and is hurt because you left?”
“Things will work out in time.”
“How will Rheb find you?”
“How can you take the children away from Durrow?”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“I think you’re being selfish.”


Cwendlwyn, daughter of Framham of the Mark–of Dunland, did not ride her horse to Buckland. When she climbed into the saddle, it took far too long for her to fit her toe in the stirrup and she had difficulty situating her legs over the saddle. Then, she kept dropping her reins. Anyatka, daughter of Kolrson of Dale, suggested that they all ride together in the worn wagon so they could keep each other company. So Cwendlwyn found herself in the wagon with Solstan and Neilia and Bean, Jr. walked beside them as the rode.

Truth be told, she thought that she slept a good portion of the ride, but time was hard to grasp nowadays. The wagon rocked gently back and forth; they did not rush. They had no need to speed their way to the Shire. Time moved differently there, Cwendlwyn said. It would be the same tomorrow as it was today.

She had taken Callee’s letters regarding the influx of southern Men as a consequence of the war to the south. Bree surely had its handful and a half of refugees seeking peace. The problems with money and curfews and Men were not things she was unfamiliar with. So she didn’t think much of it.

Cwendlwyn didn’t think much of anything, really. When she did think, the thoughts turned on her and she did not want them anymore. The thought was considered that a potion to quiet the other thoughts forever would be nice, but a potion like that would quiet everything and she wouldn’t be anymore. Luckily, the thought that some people might actually be upset about that jolted her out of that musing. She had already been weighing which ingredients would work best in such a concoction when the sound of Solstan and Neilia arguing about who would eat the most cake pulled her from herself and she remembered who she was.

She smiled at them. Their driver, a local boy from Bree called Bud Goldenleaf, whistled a cheerful summer tune. She reminded them that there would be enough for both. Callee would bake until their hearts were content.

~~~***~~~

What transpired at the Hay Gate would have bothered Cwendlwyn on another day. She watched the debate between Bud and the Man and knew that wasn’t right. Why did men speak for Hobbits? The Bounders stood aside, present but silent. Eventually, had to climb out of the wagon herself to see what was the hold up.

She strapped on her sword. She gave the men a Look. Her temper was dampened by southern flowers and she handed over the gold with a roll of her eyes and a bit of a stagger just so they could be on their way.

Callee had the candles burning. Bud was given a guest room to sleep after the horses were stabled nearby. He helped carry the children to bed and Cwendwlyn couldn’t place why her chest tightened at the sight of Solstan’s sleepy head resting on the shoulder of the man who was not his father. She had him put him in her bed and she laid Neilia down beside him. Let them comfort one another, she thought somewhere among the fog.

~~~***~~~

As Callee sat down at the kitchen table, Cwendlwyn stirred her tea. She had hardly moved from her chair after Bud was gone and the children were settled. Only her hand with the silver spoon stirred and stirred slow circles in the porcelain cup.

“Now,” Callee said as she stirred her own tea, “what in the world is going on?”

Cwendlwyn stirred.

“Cwendlwyn! Look at me,” Callee demanded. The little Hobbit reached out a hand to gently smack the table between them, twice. “Where is your Oendir? Wouldn’t he wish to be here for Solstan’s birthday as well?”

Slowly, Cwendlwyn looked up. Just as slowly, she began speaking as though she was telling someone else’s story: haltingly, backtracking for forgotten pieces, expressive, but unemotional. “Isn’t that something?” she ended with. “And if I stayed, how could I, Callee? Knowing that I could bring him that sort of pain. I know what it’s like to be violated. To have something like that taken from me. And what happened to him was so much worse, Callee. What happened to him…and I am weak.” Her face twisted into tears. “I cannot be strong for him. What good am I to him except for more pain?”

Callee sat for a long time stirring while Cwendlwyn fell into silent, wrenching tears. They poured down her cheeks, yet the distant look in her eyes said she didn’t really understand them.

“I felt myself splitting there,” she broke the silence. Tears slipped into the corners of her mouth, but she only tasted the sea. “I felt torn asunder sure as any blade could do. And then Hallem and Pheadra said we should stop trying, stop trying to help him remember because it isn’t really helping him. They knew him longer than me. How can I ask Oendir to remember?”

Callee finally spoke. “They knew him longer, but do they know him best, love? And it sounds as though he is still him. What you fell in love with. The good bits, darling, the bits one should keep should one lose one’s memory.”

“Even if…even so…Look what I’ve done. I’ve messed it all up.”

Callee pursed her lips. “What have you done, Cwendlwyn.”

“I took it.”

“What did you take, love?”

“The opium. The sort they use in medicine, the sort I got from the medical stores in Dol Amroth. It makes the pain stop, Callee. I just wanted it to stop for one night, one moment so that I could think clearly and now…” Cwendlwyn’s eyes welled up again. “I cannot stop taking it. I feel like I’m dying. At times, I wish I were. And I am almost out of it, I didn’t bring enough and even if I wrote them for more it would take ages to get here and if I were Imrahil, I wouldn’t let them give me anything anymore anyway, and…”

“Shh, love. Cwen. Cwen, look at me.” Callee reached out to hold her hand across the table. Reluctantly, Cwendlwyn lifted her eyes.

“Cwen,” Callee said soothingly, “you will heal here. I will help you. I promise, love, I am always here. Here was the first place you ever felt safe in the world. That’s what you told me only months after you came to us.” She gave her a kind, motherly smile. “Be safe here. Rest and let go of what is hurting you. We’ll take care of you and get you back on your feet.”

“It is bad, Callee,” Cwendlwyn whimpered. With her  unnatural youth, her tears and weak, tired voice, she reminded the Hobbit of her first days after she came up the river to Buckleberry Ferry. Yet, Callee thought, there was a strength then that Cwendlwyn lost somewhere in the years between. Time had chipped away at her stubborn resolution. Or maybe it was not time, but the little bottle that sat on the table next to their clasped hands.

“We will fix it, my Cwendlwyn,” Callee said firmly. “We will find your roots again and you’ll see. You’ll be right as rain and ready to go back to your life in Bree. For now…this.” She nodded toward the bottle. “I am going to take it and keep it safe. If you ask for it, I will not give it to you, my dear. Not until the third time, because if you ask for it three times, I know you will do what it takes to get more. But think on it. You know the Prince may have stopped your access to their stores. You know it will take ages for it to get here, if you ask. It seems wrong for you to be so beholden, love, to something that cannot give back to you.”

Cwendlwyn thought about it, her dull eyes roaming over the polished wood of the table before her.

“Go to sleep, love. Take the second bedroom. I will make up the second guest room.”

“Callee,” Cwendlwyn said haltingly as she looked up. “It will be bad. The children…”

“You will be strong for them, Cwendlwyn.” Callee’s tone offered no argument. “When you are ill, you be ill. When you can sit, you will join us.”

“They shouldn’t see me…”

“You’re Neilia’s mother. She will know and make up something worse in her head, dear, you know that. And Solstan will worry, too. Now sleep.”

Cwendlwyn rose obediently and padded down the familiar hall to the bedroom. She sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the dark window for a long time before lying down. Callee was right. She needed to sleep now before the medicine was out of her system and sleep would be harder to come by.

~~~***~~~

ScreenShot00013They baked a cake the next day and Solstan decorated it himself with horses and ships in white icing. Cwen wore her apron and helped stir, but let Callee direct the measuring and pouring and keeping of time. She only had to excuse herself once because the room started spinning a bit and a she broke out into a cold sweat. There it is, she thought. The last relief is floating away.

That evening after a day of sending out little presents to all of the Hobbits he knew, Solstan settled down to play with the new toy ship he received for his birthday.

“You’re gathering quite a fleet,” Cwendlwyn said with a smile even as she broke out into a heavy sweat beneath her gown. Solstan grinned up from the rug and then stood to rush to hug her. She hugged him back and then Neilia joined with a laugh. Cwendlwyn held them tightly

“I wish Papa was here,” he murmured against her hair. “I miss him.”

“I know, darling,” Cwendlwyn said and with effort, she kept her voice steady. “We will go see him when he is ready.”

“Really?” He pulled back from her and looked for her comforting gaze.

“Yes, baby. It will be a lovely journey if he cannot come to us sooner.”

“I’ve never been to Rivendell!” Neilia said excitedly. “It must be so pretty!” she gasped dramatically.

“It is, darling, and you will love it,” Cwendlwyn assured her.

“When will we go?” Solstan asked with some nervous trepidation in the quaver of his voice.

“When the time is right, dearie,” Callee interjected. “Come, show me your fleet. What is a fleet?”

Solstan went to Callee with the ship and sat beside her to explain the rigging and the lines. Neilia stayed in Cwendlwyn’s lap and for a moment, the pounding in her chest calmed.

~~~***~~~

That night she slept outside. The breeze cooled her sweats and the song of the trees soothed her restlessness and anxiety. The nausea hit with less force when the stars bathed her forehead.

In the moments of peace, when the nausea was at bay and her skin cooled  enough to dry, she could hear the voice of the world around her growing, changing. Leaves furled to rest in the absence of the sun. Roots sought the nutrients of the water and soil. Life persisted.

And so would she.


Note: All songs are taken from Cwendlwyn’s established playlist!

A Bitter Pill: Shatter Me

Like a fallen looking glass
out of place and out of time,
I sit and send pieces of me
throughout the world.
In fragments, I release my worries
–all my pain and fear–
in droplets of pale black ink
With undercurrents of berry, black and blue.


Dear Taja,

I hope this reaches you soon. I was distressed to hear of your hasty departure, though I understand the need to run away from the troubles of this community. Had you asked, perhaps I would have gone with you to explore the ice shelves of Forochel again without the threats of war between your peoples. There is always a threat no matter where one is though, isn’t there? Our recent travels have shown that us that much.

Godric may have allowed you to simply leave, but I do wish you would have said farewell to people. Many care about you quite a bit. Myself included. So do take care, Taja. If you need anything, anything at all, do let us know. (I hope you kept your acorn whistle!)

Most sincerely,

Cwendlwyn

~~~***~~~

Dear Orendir,

I hope this letter brings a warm spring for you all the way up north. How is the family? Solstan and Neilia are well; Oendir and I wed last year.

Unfortunately, Oendir has gone missing. As his father, I thought that you should know, though there is little that you could do to help in the search unless for some reason he left the Trollshaws to run naked through the snow. I highly doubt that is where his feet have taken him, but one thing I have learned is that nothing is out of possibility.

Give my regards to Simi and the children, especially Kipina. You are in our thoughts.

Sincerely,

Cwendlwyn

P.S. If you think of it, could you write me about how Taja is doing? Did he return to the settlement? He left us abruptly and I am worried about him. ~C.

~~~***~~~

Dear Attie,

My patch of lemon balm is not doing well this spring. How has your garden been faring? Do you have any tricks for the herb? I know I will be using a bit of it this season.

Please let your father and mother know that I will be in town for a bit if they are interested in tea.

Sincerely,

Cwendlwyn

~~~***~~~

My dear Callee,

Greetings, my friend. I will be bringing the children to Gardeneve on the first of the month to enjoy a bit of a holiday and help with the early spring drying. I was glad to hear that the wedding of Giles and Vera went of without too much of a hitch. It is always interesting when your folk step outside your farthings to fall in love. It is dreadful about the lack of garlic mashed potatoes at the party, though, I agree.

We have much to catch up on. I look forward to seeing you soon.

Cwen

~~~***~~~

My dear Rheb,

How are you? How is the tribe?

I wanted to let you know that we are still searching for Oendir. The company has been travelling a lot on assignments, so there has not been a lot of time to look. I still believe he is alive.

I’ve enclosed some paints in the package and some canvas for stretching. I know that Han does not wish for you to waste time on your art, but you could paint anyway. The camp could use some colour. And if Han gets snappy, tell him that all cultures create art. It is what separates Man from Animal.

Though sometimes I think that the burns Solstan’s salamander leaves in my garden is his form of art…

I miss you. Be safe.

Kwen

A Bitter Pill: Little Schemers

As Cwen lay in the “only” bed left in town, she tried to think nice things about her conniving, scheming little runt of a daughter. She swore she heard the child giggle in the darkness as she snuggled with Solstan, Oendir’s son. Her temper flared and she thought to herself that Neilia should be grateful that Cwen wasn’t big on laying hands on children. If she had been…what a whipping would be waiting for her.

The night creeped on and even though the bed was soft and the sheets clean, the body heat of her commander radiating so close to her served as a constant reminder that she was not alone in said bed. How many months had it been since she had shared a bed with a man? Over six or seven…over half a year of sprawling across the mattress and reaching for shadows in the dark. Now she found herself awkwardly clinging to the edge of the mattress because she feared if she moved any closer to the center of the bed she would find herself quite tempted to roll toward the warmth his slumbering form offered her.

It wasn’t that she was attracted to the man who currently paid her way in life. She wasn’t, she told herself. And even if she was, he was her commander. Her boss. And he was married.

Really, what were Neilia and Solstan thinking and how had they charmed the tavernkeep into saying there was only one room left for the two families to share. Into saying they were husband and wife.

She sighed.

She should be grateful that Neilia wasn’t screaming in terror after what happened in the Paths of the Dead. Cwen was not afraid of much after thirty-six years of hard life. She knew the stories of the Oathbreakers that dwelled in the mountains. And she had felt pain and fear and blood and deceit and loss everything in between. She tried her best to keep Neilia from experiencing such terrible things. She was only eight years old. The Paths of the Dead

But Oendir was her commander and he was the boss and she tried to disguise her shaking nerves as they led the horses through the caves for Neilia’s sake. When the swarm of spirits flew at them like a wall of death, she ran under his order. He commanded them into the river where finally the mass broke apart like an icy fog dispersing beneath the first rays of the morning sun. They all followed his orders with a loyalty she had never seen since the days of the Hielda. His words repeated themselves in her mind: You’re not alone. You have us. You have the Wayfarers.

He shifted on the mattress and her body sank toward his as it dipped beneath his weight.

 

Béma ‘s balls, he was a good man.

Men and Cwen usually meant painful separations. Her father. Anidore. Arodionn, Gathon, Elodir, Zhevruil, Biramore, Zhevruil…Zhev. She had been a fool to think he meant it when he said he wanted to settle down in Bree and become a real family. The man was unable to stay out of trouble for more than a single sun’s passage behind the clouds. When he disappeared – again – she swore to herself that she would only think of Neilia from now on and unless he was the Huntsman himself come to protect her from all the evils in the world, no man would be able to occupy her thoughts more than her daughter.

Though, it appeared as though her daughter was thinking a lot about her prospects with a man.

She sighed.

Neilia and Solstan’s giggles had long ago faded into the deep even breaths of sleep. Beside her, Oendir shifted again but seemed alseep as well. She knew their journey was not over and the rest that eluded her was not a luxury but a necessity. She slid from the bed and padded softly over to her bag where she withdrew the little blue vial.

No tea. No rich stout to wash it down. Just one tiny drop of the mixture of sedating herbs on her tongue and she padded back and slid in beside Oendir. As her lids grew heavy, she smiled despite their terribly awkward situation. At least he took it well and he remained true to his word.

He was a gentleman.

She wasn’t sure how to act around a man with such power who wielded it with such grace and humility. But she did know one thing.

This time, she wasn’t going to fall in love.